Could the North East be key in the new dash for gas?

Fracking rig in Lancashire Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a way of unlocking shale gas from underground

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When Conservative peer Lord Howell said "uninhabited, desolate" parts of the North East were ripe for fracking he seemed to have inserted foot firmly into mouth.

But might he have a point? Could the region unlock cheap energy and create jobs by exploiting shale gas under the ground?

National park

Shale gas is certainly present in the North, but perhaps not always in the "desolate" and post-industrial areas Lord Howell was probably alluding to.

There is the potential for shale gas in Northumberland, but in fact, the search for it is likely to happen first in rural North Yorkshire, with much of it thought to be under the North York Moors national park.

Start Quote

Anne McIntosh

If fracking took place, I do not believe the countryside will be left in the same state it currently is ”

End Quote Anne McIntosh MP Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

But even if the Conservatives generally are keen on the idea of fracking or hydraulic fracturing of the gas, one of their local MPs isn't.

Gas companies currently have 11 licences to explore the Thirsk and Malton constituency of Anne McIntosh. That doesn't necessarily mean fracking could start any time soon but it's making the MP nervous.

She said: "Obviously when I saw the potential reservoir of shale gas that covered most of the constituency and most of the national park it was very worrying indeed.

"As yet it is early days but I do believe there are very serious environmental issues and if fracking took place, I do not believe the countryside will be left in the same state it currently is."

And other Conservative MPs could face the same dilemma. There are three licences to explore Robert Goodwill's Scarborough and Whitby seat; three in Julian Sturdy's York Outer constituency; one licence in William Hague's Richmond and one each in Tory Penrith and the Border and Carlisle.

One licence also exists in Lib Dem Redcar, but the only Labour seat with a licence is a small part of Stockton North.

Map of shale formations in the UK
Pressure groups

Any of those MPs may have to take notice of a band of people increasingly vocal in their opposition to fracking.

There are growing numbers involving themselves in pressure groups across the North.

They say they're not eco-warriors, but ordinary citizens who've done their research and don't like what they've discovered.

They're particularly worried that water supplies could be contaminated by the chemicals that are injected into the ground during fracking, and from the gas that's released.

Ellie Strange lives in Saltburn close to the North York Moors, and helped found Frack Free Cleveland because she's so concerned.

Start Quote

Prof Richard Davies

There is no evidence supporting fracking itself causing water contamination”

End Quote Prof Richard Davies Durham University

She said: "We have looked at what's happened in the USA, Australia and Canada and it's been an unmitigated environmental disaster. It affects people's health, the food chain and it affects the water.

"We do not feel there has been enough research into this before it goes ahead."

Earth tremors

Those are claims that are rejected by the industry and many in the government though.

It has been established that fracking can cause earth tremors, albeit on a fairly small scale in the UK.

But Professor Richard Davies, an expert in fracking at Durham University, believes some of the more dramatic claims don't stand up to scrutiny.

He said: "There is no evidence supporting fracking itself causing water contamination. Fracking is the process of cracking rocks underground.

"The issue we need to be more careful about is the drilling and cementing of boreholes which can leak but that is the same for any drilling by the gas and oil industry.

"So fracking is not the problem, it's more the extra traffic, potential spillages and making sure those boreholes are sealed effectively."

But there may be other ways of unlocking the potential of the North's fossil fuels without fracking, and without doing anything onshore.

There are still billions of tonnes of shale and coal out under the North Sea, and one Newcastle company believes it can turn both into gas and cheap energy.

North Sea Billions of tonnes of coal and shale lie off the North East coast

Deep gas winning involves heating the shale and coal to produce energy.

Five Quarter - the company developing the technology for the North East coast - believes it can find ways of making it carbon-neutral and at the same time generating other chemicals and gases North East industry needs.

And it believes it can create up to 1,000 jobs and safeguard traditional industries by supplying affordable power and raw materials.

Dr Harry Bradbury, the firm's founder, said: "It's estimated there is ten times as much shale gas off the coast as there is onshore, and we could get dramatically more than that from coal. We have not just decades, but centuries worth of potential in unconventional gas that buy us the time for a renewables future.

"If we do not go down that route we would see our process and chemicals industry closed and jobs go with it."

But the anti-fracking groups also have concerns about deep gas winning, and believe it is a mistake to turn back to "dirty" fossil fuels.

And this is the problem that could yet face the government. It will need to convince communities that a new dash for gas is safe, and won't further damage the environment.

There may be time though to work on people's concerns. Professor Richard Davies believes serious exploitation of shale gas could be five or even 10 years away in the UK.

Plenty of time then to debate whether coal and shale gas could secure future prosperity, or cause environmental ruin.

Richard Moss Article written by Richard Moss Richard Moss Political editor, North East & Cumbria

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  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Fracking shud be BANNED not REGULATED

    VIDEO LINK BELOW. Sandra Steingraber Ph.D, sends Europe a powerful message from the USA. Share and send this to MPs, MEPs, Councillors

    Ecologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized authority on the environment links to cancer and human health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    all you have to do is go on youtube and look for water contamination from fracking in the US.. nuff said

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    So Prof Richard Davies, a man who spent many years working for Exxon and is currently heavilly funded by the oil industry says fracking is safe ?
    How surprising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Lord Howell caused an uproar when he talked about 'desolate areas of the NorthEast'. I think he meant the Stadium of Light on matchday. On a serious note I see the Tory party finally bringing back mining and jobs after 20 years so why are Labour and their supporters complaining?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Petroleum is underground since that is where it was formed and is now trapped.
    Otherwise it would have leached out over the millennia.
    So if we are now to frack it to let it out we had better be sure the genie remains trapped - or else it will find its way to all sorts of unexpected places. Irrevocably.

    Are we ready for that? If the answer is - don't know, then it's best left - until we do know..

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    You all want wind farms, railways, new roads, unending power sources. But not near you of course. The Suffolk coast has huge windfarms and I have a cottage 17 miles inland which is on a road leading up to a huge new power transformer and distribution site. Years of heavy machinery, noise and vibration but I don't mind because I understand some of us have to give a little so others may gain a lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    They are having trouble off the coast of Spain too

    Civil guards storm offshore gas-storage plant blamed for series of earthquakes - which is located 22 kilometers from the coastal town of Vinaròs in Castellón province

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    The areas on the map shown as black shale have nothing to do with shale gas. the licences in the north east are large blocks down the coast from Amble to Sunderland. They are conditional licences for underground coal gasification.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    The chances of that are thin, all the little companies with the licences are backed by big buisiness

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.


    The greed, stupidity and ignorance of politicians and energy company’s hold no bounds


  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    It would be a disaster if any extraction of shale gas could result in it being in the hands of existing 'rip off' energy companies.

    Any exploration and possible benefits from shale gas should be controlled and accrue to the people of the UK and not 'international investors' which would no doubt include Wall Street gangsters and their global drug dealing clients.

    Public ownership - Yes

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Theres not going to be any fracking north of the tees

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    @110 Have not read anything about your region; will do so. As I have said, demand is the problem and supply is blamed. I drive a Hyundai and get 25km/L. A US Kennedy has flown into Canada several times to deride Canadian practices, each time on a private jet. Big business is driven by demand; cut demand and the supply side will die away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I am about to say something scary. Health & Safety warning!!

    The good Coal Miners, men of the North East used to work 6 miles out, under the North Sea. I am sure many must have PTSD and should contact their lawyers asap for compensation, given the daily flashbacks they must encounter, after such an horrendous, health and safety risk.

    Fracking should be stopped!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Solar power in Germany has been so successful they have been able to shut down some power stations

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    The problrm here in the North East is not fracking it is Undersea Coal Gasification. It is an experimental process that in tests has resulted in explosions. It has never been tested under the sea. No one knows what might happen. It is planned from Sunderland to AmbleWe are be used as a guinea pigs by big business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Thorium is up and running in China. They are stockpiling Thorium in the USA. With a Uranium reactor you pump molten metal through the core then through the heat exchangers. With Thorium you pump the core through the heat exchangers. How neat is that. The problem is washing out an unfortunate by-product. Fixing that will take time so isn't it lucky we have all that shale gas to tide us over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    @105:While agree is best to distrust experts on all sides, I question your ‘general consensus of opinion from around the world.’ Guess they have not asked anyone from here.Has got hold here and all is well. I am all for alternative sources, but know none of them is clean. In Canada vast valleys have been flooded for 'clean' hydroelectric power, but the animals migration routes: ignored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    @14 - 'lots of happy noises being made about thorium reactors'?

    The US trialled one (Oak Ridge project) between 1964 and 1969.
    Number of operating LFTR's since this time? 0.
    Number expected to be operating commercially by 2030? 1, possibly. If the Indians get their act together.

    I wouldn't rely on the LFTR any more than I would fracking. We need a diverse mix of *available* generation sources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I do think the battle should be fought on the demand side, rather than the supply side. Vivienne Westwood protested at the potential fracking site in the south, yet sells backpacks, non eco friendly, for 500 pounds. Hypocrisy is too common amongst the anti-fracking group to make them something to support.


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